Casualties Mount in Tajikistan’s Spin Valley
Dushanbe is looking to boost public support for its campaign against alleged Islamic militants in Rasht, but its performance – lurching from one PR catastrophe to the next – is simply fostering increased skepticism.The government is having trouble keeping its message on top of the news cycle. Though officials insist only seven soldiers died in a helicopter malfunction on October 6, independent local and foreign media, citing unnamed military sources, report that 28 actually died.One could be forgiven, given the mounting discord within the security forces, for being skeptical of the government account. (Separately, sources told AFP and the BBC Persian Service and RFE/RL and Asia-Plus that the death toll greatly exceeded official figures.)As of October 8, Asia-Plus continues to report that 28 died.The difference -- 21 -- is the number that belonged to the elite Alfa Unit of the State Committee for National Security. Since operations started in Rasht a few weeks ago, the Defense Ministry has attempted to discredit independent reporting and continues to block phone access to the remote valley, thus making it impossible to confirm government claims.President Imomali Rakhmon himself has waded into the unfolding dispute, calling criticism of his government’s unfolding disaster “opportunist” and unpatriotic. "Now some of our newspapers and magazines are publishing reports for business and pursuing their personal interests. Such opportunist newspapers have now appeared, which like certain newspapers of the civil war years, which were the main causes of the misfortunes [of the civil war], do not care that the blood of the Tajik nation is being shed,” the president said on October 5, Tajik state television reported. Separately, we are told, a land-mine may have also left six soldiers dead. Officials say the October 6 explosion was also an accident.